Ulster's power highlighted as Williams and Marshall scoop top awards
Ulster's status as table-toppers was reflected in last night's glittering RaboDirect PRO12 awards ceremony in Dublin.
The province walked off with both of the major honours, with No 8 Nick Williams taking the Players' Player of the Year Award and Luke Marshall scooping the Young Player of the Year in recognition of his achievement of not only breaking into the Ulster side but making the grade at international level, too.
Both were included in the RaboDirect PRO12 2012-13 Dream Team at the awards bash in the Clontarf Castle Hotel.
With Williams having joined Ulster, supposedly in a support role to Roger Wilson, last night's accolade confirmed the impact the Kiwi has made after his nondescript terms with Munster and Aironi. Coach Mark Anscombe, who knew the player well having worked with him in New Zealand, fought his case in advising Ulster to take a chance on him and that has more than paid off.
A haul of six tries in 16 PRO12 appearances underlines Williams' contribution as an unstoppable ball-carrier and the fact that he pipped fellow-nominees Justin Tipuric – the Ospreys No 8 named last week in the British & Irish Lions squad – and Glasgow's Fijian scrum half Niko Matawalu says all that need be said about the season he has had.
By winning the Player of the Year award he follows in the bootprints of Ulster colleagues Ruan Pienaar and Tommy Bowe, the latter having earned it in his time with Ospreys.
But while Anscombe was pipped to the prize which would have completed a remarkable hat-trick – Glasgow's Gregor Townsend won the 'Coach of the Year' title, beating the New Zealander and Benetton Treviso's Franco Smith – there was further glory for the province in the form of the SpecsSavers Fairplay Award.
Remarkably, Ulster picked up just six yellow cards, totally disproving the theory that good guys don't win.